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Homelessness dominates council discussion

Last Updated Feb 13, 2019 at 7:09 am MDT

PHOTO: A graphic from the municipality's 2014 Point in Time Homelessness Count report. Council met on Feb. 12, 2019, to discuss what can be done to address funding for social profits and local charities as they tackle homelessness in Wood Buffalo.

As the recent cold snap proved, there is more to do in Wood Buffalo for the homeless.

Council ruled, although homelessness in Wood Buffalo decreased by 65 per cent since the region began its 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, there is still a long way to go.

Mayor Don Scott agrees, saying “particular restrictions” on Wood Buffalo hampers the efforts of social profits and local charities, in particular in rural communities.

“We heard several delegates tonight talking about how the federal and provincial governments are not providing the funding. Look at the restrictions they are putting on the funding in this region in particular. We have unique circumstances here, and homelessness is one of them.”

Mayor Scott cited the wildfire and economic slowdown as contributing factors to why funding should increase.

Meanwhile, Councillor Mike Allen was blown away by what the delegates shared in their presentations, saying he’s “frustrated” with the lack of funding.

“I’ve never seen a debate like that on this topic! The funding was there, it was allocated it accordingly; we hand that responsibility to social profits [and] to non-profits, and then not fund it sufficiently! So, yeah, that’s frustrating.”

Decisions on homelessness

Council will write to both the provincial and federal governments asking them to consider the needs of the region in order to tackle homelessness as “they are responsible for it.”

“If we’re really going to tackle homelessness, which is what this Mayor and council want to achieve, then we’re going to need the funding to achieve it. I want to encourage them to make sure they are taking a hard look at the numbers, and step up the funding.” said Mayor Scott.

Councillor Mike Allen believes as Alberta prepares for the spring election, and the nation gets ready for the general election in the fall, it’s important all parties make homelessness a priority.

“My plan would be to advocate directly to the leaders of the other parties to at least get a commitment to fund some of these programs that we’re giving.”

Council also motioned that money paid for the bus transportation of homeless people to shelters and charities go toward helping get more people off the streets.

Alberta allocated only $3,986,013 to different social profits and non-profit organizations in Wood Buffalo to address homelessness, with federal money expected in April of this year.

However, restrictions prevent groups like the Fort McKay Métis from providing housing and transitional support to those in need.

Additional Notes

Councillor Phil Meagher motioned for council to defer discussion on the design concepts and budget for Shell Place pending public engagement.

Council approved unanimously on the motion; discussion on the design on Shell Place’s roof will take place in March.